2013-12-26 / Front Page

County regulation questioned

$100 limit on department purchases at core of debate

MANISTIQUE – A limit set on the amount county departments can spend before approval from county commissioners is required has come under fire. The limit was questioned by select commissioners and department heads during a recent meeting of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners.

According to Commissioner Craig Reiter, a $100 limit on purchases was set by the then-commissioners approximately five years ago to curb wasteful spending. Any purchases over $100 by any department requires special permission from the county board, he explained, whether it is everyday items like stamps and envelopes or essential items like gas and repairs.

“This has been an issue,” Reiter said. “Even though they’re budgeted, they (department heads) have to come to us to be approved, because they hit the ‘magic’ number.”

Reiter said he would like to see the amount which triggers the approval process updated.

“We spend too much time on approving paper, approving toner, approving stamps,” he said. “When we approve the budget in October, those things are already in it … why do we have to, again, when each department has to make those purchases … approve it?”

Reiter made the motion to increase the spending limit to $300 for budgeted items, and to leave the $100 limit in place for nonbudgeted items. Department heads would have to request county permission to make any purchase over these limits.

“It’s more realistic, it still gives us a watch, have you, to see that maybe too much money is being spent somewhere,” he said. “It would take out a lot of the hassle.”

Commissioner Sue Cameron supported the motion, pointing out it would save time.

“If it’s budgeted items – that’s why we approve the budget,” she said.

Reiter also noted that the meager limit sends a message of mistrust to county employees.

“That’s why we have department heads … and we should have confidence in our department heads,” he said. “They know their budget and they know what they can do and what they can’t do.”

Commissioner Dan LaFoille countered that there is a reason the limit is in place and that he would like to see the issue sent to the finance committee, consisting of himself, Commissioner Al Grimm, Treasurer Julie Roscioli, and County Clerk Dan McKinney, for further discussion.

Reiter pointed out that the issue had already been brought to the finance committee in the past and they had turned the increase request down.

“That’s exactly what you said the last time we brought this up, and nothing was done,” he said.

Reiter explained he would like a vote on the matter, and he and Cameron voted “yes”, while LaFoille and Grimm cast “no” votes. Commissioner Jerry Zellar was absent. The issue will now move to the finance committee.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, the Manistique Senior Center and Schoolcraft County Commission on Aging’s Accountant/Bookkeeper Brittany Baker spoke out against the $100 limit. She noted that some commissioners don’t understand how much work goes into making up the purchase requisitions required to make purchases just over $100 or how much money it’s costing the county.

“Times are changing, the economy is changing – things are not priced what they were five years ago,” Baker said. “With everybody looking at the budgets, and wanting to cut down on the spending, and wanting everybody to be more budget conscientious, it makes more sense to me … to cut down on indirect charges; to not be pushing so much paperwork through, to have employees running circles and reimbursing different accounts.”

At the senior center alone, Baker said the steps to purchase something as trivial, but necessary, as $138 in postal stamps involves obtaining: initial budget approval in October, a purchase requisition, a check written out of the center’s general account, a receipt of the purchase, a voucher for county approval, and, finally, a check from the county for reimbursement.

“I could never see them (commissioners) coming down here and saying, ‘No I’m sorry you can’t have stamps’,” she added.

Baker also pointed out that some departments are forced to avoid indirect charges and paperwork by purchasing everything in $50 increments.

No further action on the matter was taken up by the commissioners.

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